Roussoss Odhiambo admires his sprouting mushrooms at a farm near Karen Village, Nairobi. He has grown a network of farmers and buyers to help in the fungus value chain. Photo courtesy.
A 2015 Bachelor of Science (Information Technology) graduate from Mount Kenya University who ventured into mushroom farming is now training over 500 farmers in Kenya and Uganda further linking them to buyers. This is after realising that most of the farmers lack basic information in the venture.
Roussoss Odhiambo worked with Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), an international not-for-profit organization that strives to help smallholders up their yields and livelihood in early 2015 when with his other IT experts were contracted by the organisation to help in farmers’ data entry.
“It is during the time I realized that there is a big information gap, especially among farmers. They are less informed on farm inputs, how to apply them for better yields and where to get better markets for their produce,” said Odhiambo.
According to him despite the efforts from different sectors to help the growers, the challenge has led to many farmers opting out of production due to losses or lack of where to sell for better prices.
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He remembers a plant clinic field day organised by CABI experts where a mushroom farmer came with samples of mushroom with molds allover. The farmer had no idea what was ailing the produce until he got a comprehensive explanation from the experts.
This was the first time Odhiambo was coming across a mushroom farmer in commercial production. All along since his childhood, he knew mushrooms as wild crops which only grows in the bush during rainy seasons.
“I grew knowing mushrooms as a crop for hunters and gatherers and they could only find them during certain seasons just for their home consumption and not for sale,” he said.
Further interaction with the experts and the farmers revealed to him the potential of the crop in food security and growing it as a commercial enterprise that can earn one a decent living.
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He then in May 2015 decided to do online research on mushroom production then because he had contacts of some mushroom farmers he started a company, Delicious Mushrooms Kenya, through which he would link the farmers with buyers.
“Within a short time, I started witnessing overwhelming orders from restaurants, hotels, individuals and traders who wanted the produce. This encouraged me and I thought of trying it out on my own,” said Odhiambo.
He, therefore, in April the same year acquired a quarter piece of family land at their home in Nyabondo, Kisumu County where he started producing oyster mushrooms. He did it there for two consecutive seasons and when the demand was increasing he decided to find a farm near Nairobi where most of his markets were for convenience.
“An uncle of mine gave me a quarter piece of land at Athi River where I started growing both oyster and button mushroom to supply to my markets in the city,” he said.
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The land with other neighbouring places would later be taken by the government for a project but that did not discourage him. He moved to Karen Village where the company has had its offices and leased another quarter acre farm from the nearby places and made it a production and demonstration farm for other growers seeking training.
Today the farmer has over 6,000 players in the sector in his database. These include farmers he offers training and market to and buyers.
The company is now contracting farmers to grow mushrooms and in order to ensure they do not get stranded with their produce, we also have buyers at standby for them. We promise our farmers to buy half of their production to enable every one of them has a share of the markets,” said Odhiambo.